Panel: Plan of Action in the next 5 years

December 26, 2021 | By Zubina Ahmed

Retail means change. Hardly any other sector is experiencing changes as strongly as the retail industry, which has undergone a significant transformation over the past decade and continues to evolve quickly. Consumer’s behaviours have shifted dramatically, loyalty expectations have evolved and global sourcing and supply chains have never been this volatile. Additionally, the pandemic has pushed the industry to adapt and change faster in order to keep up with e-commerce trends and ensure operational effectiveness to retain customers.In this ever-evolving world of retail, the role of those in-charge of operations has become crucial as well as more challenging. Changing demand driven by evolving customer behaviors and market risks, and shifting supply characterized by new service delivery models and entrants enabled by disruptive technologies are the basic themes that retail COOs and GMs are trying to nail while creating the roadmap for their businesses for the coming years. During the 10th edition of the Middle East Retail Forum, Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Retail and Tom Harvey, GM of Spinneys came together on a podium for some thought-provoking discussions on their Plan of Action and a Q&A session with experts including Mohammad Iqbal Alawi, CEO of Real Estate Development Solutions (REDS) KSA, Anurag Bajpai, Head of Retail at KPMG, and Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales at Zebra Technologies.

Plan of Action in the next 5 years:  

Tom Harvey, GM of Spinneys

On the food side, Covid-19 really kept us busy, it just reinforced what we need to do. I will make you understand about supermarkets what our role is for customers,
why they shop with us, what purpose we fulfill for them. For
us during the pandemic, even after the initial phase of panic buying, we still sustained the initial growth. Our focus now is on delivery, health, indulgence, time- saving, convenience, sustenance, entertaining and great service, backed up with trust, traceability and sustainability.

For us, it is still about bricks- and-mortar, even though we have launched online but 90% of our sales is still done in-store, a trend similar to what most food retailers worldwide are experiencing. However, we do realise that retailers need to become more experiential and service-focussed. We’ve also got a price-war going on and we will be doing our very best to avoid that by keeping ourselves as distant from the competition by having more brands, private labels, and more exclusive products. From a perspective, the plan is about avoiding what is rapidly becoming a race to the bottom and would become a race for time, rather than for cheap products. The final thing for us is about de-risking our saturation. We are a premium retailer that gives a limited scale in terms of the customers we can look to. New markets beyond the borders of the UAE is something you will see from Spinneys in the next 5 years.

Ashish Panjabi, COO, Jacky’s Retail

Nothing changes in the next 5 years because as a retailer, nothing has really changed. In retail we have always been about one thing and that is about being where the customer is, serving the customer and that’s what we continue to do. Now, since the customer has moved, our job is to continue moving with them.NWe have seen customers transition from stores to online. The electronic sector was probably fortunate because a lot of customers started moving quicker so we have already been through generations one, two, three by now and understood a lot of that. They moved to individual online to stores to marketplaces and we had to do the same to be where the customer was.

In the next 5 years we are going to see an evolution because retail hasn’t died, the online space hasn’t died, and marketplaces haven’t died. But we are going to see the metaverse and we will see how that will affect businesses going forward. The one thing I hope gets better is how we get the same experience everywhere, because that consistency of experiences is one thing that needs to evolve. The role of the store has also changed- From being a place where retailers sold from to becoming a distribution point, it is now becoming a service point as well. So we have seen the evolution of stores over time, but again at the heart of it is still the customer – what we need to do for the customer and the customer experience.

Rapid Fire  Q & A Session: 

The rapid fire Q&A was a fast-paced and informative session intended to provide impactful answers from Tom and Ashish on areas of customer service, experience, delivery, trends, buying patterns, sales and future investments. 

Q. Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales, Zebra Technologies: Have you lost the customers who have gone online or has your digital expansion incorporated those online customers?

A. Tom Harvey, GM of Spinneys: We have gained customers after moving online. Covid-19 soldified our online business further. Launched amidst the economic challenges caused by Covid-19, our new service offered our customers an efficient, convenient and safe way to shop for their groceries. The new delivery service was launched in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, through our apps. Spinneys Dubai has also launched a special service so shoppers over 60 can email a shopping list to their nearest branch and pick it up. Besides that, we unveiled a meal kit delivery concept under the Spinneys Food label. The new Spinneys Food meal kit brought to customers a convenient way to shop and cook, with the added safety of pre-packaged ingredients. The meal kits were developed by local chefs with a focus on fresh ingredients and easy step-by-step cooking instructions. Another target was 10 minutes from order to delivery.

Q. Anurag Bajpai, Head of Retail at KPMG: How have your responded to changes in customer behaviour as a result of the pandemic?

A. Tom Harvey, GM of Spinneys: The impact on customers was obvious from the beginning. As the virus first started to circulate, the shift in customer preferences was palpable. Almost overnight, physical stores were shunned. Customer demand shifted from discretionary items to those perceived as essentials.
People started to prioritize health and supply chain safety over cost and convenience. Online channels of certain brands like ours particularly those in the grocery and food industries – saw massive volume. Companies without a customer-friendly digital presence scrambled to fill the gap. In just a matter of weeks, the pace of digital adoption and rate of digital literacy skyrocketed.

Q. Mohammad Iqbal Alawi, CEO of Reds Real Estate Development KSA: How will you prioritize your investments in the future and where will the cost-cutting happen?

A. Tom Harvey, GM of Spinneys: Some of our challenges were inflation and freight rates. These are global challenges and it is going to get worse. In Spinneys, what we are mindful of is what are customers are coming back to. We are fortunate that we are serving the more affluent part of the community than most of our competitors, so we have to keep good quality in mind and we have to stick to those principles of having the best quality product in the market to maintain that brand value.

Q. Mohammad Iqbal Alawi, CEO of Reds Real Estate Development KSA : How have customers’ shopping trends and spending patterns changed before and after the lockdown?

A. Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Retail: Our problem has been demand and not supply at this stage. But what customers have been buying has also evolved over the years. During the lockdown it was a lot about e-learning, work from home and all devices related to it (such as laptops, printers, scanners). Then it all became about entertainment at home such as gaming and television sets. People started upgrading things because home is now not only a place to live, but is also where people work, enjoy, exercise, and entertain. We saw a dip of smartphones in the beginning and then it bounced back. Our bigger challenge over the last few years has been about supply chain and stocks. But the pandemic has left one very destructive economic issue in its wake: disruption to global supply chains.

Q. Anurag Bajpai, Head of Retail at KPMG: You spoke about your focus on customer experience, convenience and relevance. How are you using data to fuel your business?

A. Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Retail:  In the last 2 years we have learnt a lot about data because we have learnt about the gap between the online world and physical stores. The big difference was data. Online retailers always had access to data. Today, transactions happen through scanning QR codes on menus, which means you start engaging digitally with the restaurant that you go into.

For example, when McDonalds started adding more kiosks than counters, customers questioned if they want to wait in queues or go to kiosks for quicker service. Slowly consumers embraced that change and that is what we needed in retail. We needed the customer to change the way they interacted with us. The concept of loyalty has also changed. Customers are willing to experiment and change their brands. What was interesting is that we saw a lot of retailers change their loyalty strategy and most of them stopped being loyal to their own loyalty programmes because they realized you get data from other loyalty programmes as well.

Q. Hozefa Saylawala, Director of Sales, Zebra Technologies: You have spoken about consumers adopting different channels – now it’s a mix of online and physical stores. Doesn’t that put pressure on the preparedness of your store staff for the expectation of the customer who walks in. How do you as a retailer prepare your staff to deal with this new consumer?

A. Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Retail: I think one of the big advantages that we have got because of being in the UAE is that we have a relatively young population and a population that is willing to adapt and to learn. One big thing that came out of Covid-19 is that we all learnt to behave like consumers a lot more because no one wanted to be in a store longer than was required due to hygiene issues.

Moreover, you can maximize your business appeal with something that sets you apart from the competition. Offering extended service programs and warranties to your customers during this time can be particularly lucrative in increasing your sales. Today we employ staff from all parts of the world and they already know a lot about extended warranties. Lot of our strategies are by the people who are working with us. With the businesses that we run , they have actually put together a 3 year business plan —-Driven by them, designed by them and executed by them. When you have got the ownership to that level you start to see things changing and evolving. It’s then about everyone moving in the same direction and I think this is the one big thing that came out.

Q. Mohammad Iqbal Alawi, CEO of Reds Real Estate Development KSA How will you prioritize your investments in the future and where will the cost-cutting happen?

A. Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Retail

I think we decided many years ago in the way we do our business. We knew what store size worked for us better, so we actually shrunk a lot of our store sizes many years ago. It was also about making sure we had the right volume. It’s also then about being selective about the brands we work wit

Watch the whole panel below.





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